Lucy Milburn 29th December 2017
Lucy writes in response to Dear students, you get more boring every year.
Those who enjoyed a free university education and waltzed straight into a successful career often jump at the opportunity to criticise the students of today. We are boring and we complain far too much for a generation who have “never had it so good”. We are simultaneously lazy and overly studious, depending on where you look. We are either mocked as disgruntled millennials, demanding “safe spaces” while never lifting a finger, or we are ridiculed for being “generation sensible”. Current students are trapped in a catch 22 – expected to shoulder the responsibilities of being an adult while facing criticism when they don’t cling on to the residue of teenage rebellion.
Once upon a time, university may have been a hub of pleasure and learning. Today, many students are living in poverty. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that working-class students will graduate saddled with nearly £60,000 worth of debt. When you struggle to afford the bare necessities, a holiday or even a trip to the cinema becomes a luxury. When your maintenance loan doesn’t even cover the rent of your shit student house, a minimum-wage job and a strict budget are the only things that prevent you from slipping further into the red.
The average student graduates in stifling debt, plunged into a cut-throat job market with their mental health in tatters
The financial situation facing students is dire – tuition fees are currently £9,250 a year, maintenance grants have been scrapped and the cost of living is sky high. The average student graduates in stifling debt, plunged into a cut-throat job market with their mental health in tatters. When even academic success doesn’t guarantee employment, it is no surprise that students focus their energy on being the best. With the rising number of graduates, there is an overwhelming pressure to compete. For many jobs in the competitive current economy, a university education is not enough. Even a first-class degree may lose its currency if it’s not paired with societies, committee positions, volunteering and work experience. Co-ordinating the taxis for your entire house on a night out or sampling every cocktail on the menu will not make you stand out against thousands of applicants vying for the same position.
University is now more accessible than ever and coming from a low-income family is no longer an impenetrable barrier. But without a wealthy background propping them up, students must fend for themselves and be more responsible with their money. We still drink excessively, meet new people and make plenty of stupid mistakes. But this must be balanced with the hard work, job applications and relentless assessment. We’re unwilling to sacrifice our social life but we’re overwhelmed by academic pressure – it is no wonder that many students completely burn out. Mental health at university is an unprecedented crisis – anxiety and depression prevents many students from letting themselves loose in the city.
Experimenting with drugs and sex on the weekend does not necessarily define who we are and who we are not
Aside from the debt and depression, students of today are confident in their identities. We are conscientious, politically engaged and socially aware. We can party hard on a Friday night but return to the grind the next day. We no longer feel the need to prove that we’re exciting and adventurous millennials. We are content in our friendships and secure in our relationships. Experimenting with drugs and sex on the weekend does not necessarily define who we are and who we are not. If you asked current students whether they would sacrifice freedom to stay in bed or easy access to drugs for financial security and a stable future, the answer would be a unanimous yes. If that makes us boring and uninteresting in the face of previous generations – so be it.
Lucy Milburn 29th December 2017